The Garden City Telegram
8/17/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Lost votes

Assault on voter rights has no place in democracy.

A lawsuit targeting Kansas' proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement was to be expected.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently notified Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that it would file a federal lawsuit unless the state stops enforcing a requirement for new voters to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

The ACLU claims the new Kansas requirement doesn't comply with federal election laws. A U.S. Supreme Court decision recently overturned key parts of Arizona's proof-of-citizenship law, which suggests Kansas' law also is on shaky ground.

The policy coveted by Kobach and fellow GOP ultraconservatives went into effect on Jan. 1. Now, new voters aren't legally registered until they've presented a birth certificate, passport or other document demonstrating citizenship.

But thanks to the proof-of-citizenship law, voter registration was left in "suspense" for nearly 15,000 Kansans. The mess has the state claiming prospective voters didn't provide a document necessary to satisfy the requirement, while evidence shows some did indeed show proof of citizenship at a driver's license office or had voted in the past.

Kobach — a key player in a national anti-immigrant movement who pursues policies that disproportionately disenfranchise minorities — says such requirements are needed because we've fallen prey to widespread voter fraud. But in a state with about 1.7 million registered voters, only a handful of cases related to reports of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote have materialized in the past decade, with even fewer convictions.

The proof-of-citizenship requirement in Kansas followed a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, another ultraconservative strategy to discourage voting by sidelining those who may not have appropriate photo ID — the poor, elderly and students, for example — and who tend to favor Democrats on the ballot.

As if making it more difficult to vote isn't troubling enough, the thousands of prospective voters on the new "suspense" list easily could be the difference in tight statewide races — sad proof that the strategy to suppress future votes is gaining momentum in Kansas.

And now, we're left to hope the threat of litigation somehow slows the deliberate, relentless assault on the democratic process.